Stuck somewhere between 1982 and 2016, Argentina’s Falkland Islands veterans are still trying to get the benefits promised to them.
It hasn’t been an easy fight. Battling corrupt and inept governments, the veterans of the war — known as Malvinas Veterans here — have staged an encampment of sorts in Buenos Aires’ primary plaza, Plaza de Mayo.
Alternating between being drenched in sweat in this sub-tropical country and wrapped in layers of clothing to ward off the cold of the South American winter, the veterans have put up tarpaulins, banners and signs telling their story. In once side of the corner of the encampment, white wooden crosses symbolize the dead from the ill-fated “war” in 1982; nothing acknowledges the living dead who protest.
Tourists walk by and gawk. — not sure what to do or to say. Portenos — People of the Port — as Buenos Aires residents are known as, walk blithely by, caught up in their own self-important and artificial world. Short skirted women, pretending to be busily important on their cell phones pass young men imagining themselves consumed with some significant business. In the mix are politicians that are using the plaza as a short cut between the Pink House — Argentina’s version of The White House, the government tax office or any of several cafes’s lining Avenida de Mayo.
No one stops to look at the veterans. None stop to talk. The behavior of the over painted women, the braggadocio boys, and the corrupt politicians is emblematic of the attitude of the government. Ignored and forgotten, the veterans watch the foot traffic as it sweeps, swells and fades in the plaza.
Talked into going to a war that no one wanted — except a drunk general who bet an aide that he could take the Malvinas — these men came from northern Argentina as farm boys and returned as dejected, and rejected old men; the victims of another war who were promised one thing by their government and handed a different life.
Like veterans everywhere, the country called them when needed. With their service over, they were tossed into the garbage heap. The government doesn’t want to be reminded of the terrible cost in lives.
Former President Kirchner is considered by many observers to be the most corrupt president in a country with a long line of corrupt commanders-in-chief. She has openly stolen a few billion dollars with the help of her flunkies and her Finance Minister, Axel Kiciloff.
With a habit of going into the hospital for some “emergency surgery” as a cover story, Kirchner has had so many facelifts her ears almost meet on top of her head. A second-rate militant during Argentina’s so-called “Dirty War,” Kirchner never had the intellect to run a partisan party. While in office, she liked to play up, in state appearances, the notion that she and her late husband Nestor, were the political successors of Juan and Eva Peron. She never could quite pull it off.
The Perons were crooked, there’s no doubt about that. But they were intelligent as well. The Kirchners were just crooked.
The government’s Finance Minister under the inept leadership of Kirchner. Kicillof, whose sole qualification for the job was that he went to school with Maximo Kirchner, Cristina’s bloated and drug-addled son.
Trying to project an aura of modern, Kicillof would hold forth in press conferences donning a jacket and open-at-the-neck collar. With His mutton-chop sideburns left over from a bygone era, he protruded nonsense as the tried to pitch coolness. Thinking he was the nation’s heartthrob, the only thing he managed to achieve was to hold Argentina hostage as he tried to play finance and commerce with the big boys of New York City’s hedge fund managers.
Axel was outgunned, outclassed outmanned and outplayed. Despite his efforts to perform as the nation’s savior, he only succeeded in digging the country’s debt deeper. It wasn’t until a new administration came along — and Axel was shown the door — that the country was able to pay off the debt, move forward and be welcomed back into the global monetary community; a place from which it had been in exile for a dozen years.
The aging playboy son of a wealthy businessman in Argentina, Macri came to office in December 2015. With a promise to end the corruption that steered Argentina under Kirchner, Macri has managed to piss off, well, just about everybody.
Argentines, are passionate about their politics, but many are clueless as well. A president, no matter who he is or how smart cannot turn around years of inefficiency, political patronage, and profiteering in six-months. Portenos have been taking to the streets while the new government works to put in place new policies and procedures meant to help everyone.
Overlooked are the veterans and the plaza. Sitting standing around, drinking coffee, they have to be wondering if another administration is ignoring them as well.
The Falklands War lasted about two months. The fight with their own government has taken years.
It appears that the powers-that-be have forgotten who the enemy actually is.
Jerry Nelson is an American writer and photojournalist and is always interested in discussing future work opportunities. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and join the million-or-so who follow him on Twitter @ Journey_America.